Training in information and communication technology

Ricardo Pérez. Professor. IE Business School

31 January 2007

Professional training has always been vital to business success. Now it’s more important than ever.

When you read these lines, the New Year will already have begun. But it’s not too late to draw up a wish list for Santa Claus. As a member of the teaching profession, I suggest that your list focus on training—an activity that not only contributes to the wellbeing of the sector but also enhances the role of its professionals and their work in society.

As with any letter to Santa Claus, the strategy has to be well thought out. You can´t ask for everything. That is a trap. Your wish list has to be limited in length. And your wishes have to be divided into three categories. The first is the group of things you would like to have but you know are impossible to obtain. But you write them down anyway. It´s like making a declaration of principles.

The second group is a little less complicated: these are wishes that might come true. They could be a bit problematical, but still possible. With the third group, you have to get it right: these are the objectives you want to achieve. These are the things you know are within reach and that you can achieve. I suggest an exercise: Let’s try to select some of the key points on training that you would include in a letter to Santa Claus and see what we come up with.

One of the first things I would mention in my letter is what is known as cross-fertilisation. It´s a strange name and refers to the need for IT (information technology) professionals to refrain from becoming experts in the latest standard only (don´t worry; we´ll come back to that in a moment). Instead, it encourages them to develop a broader tech-related business vision. In other words, we don´t want to just explore the standards behind service-oriented architectures; we also want to see how these standards influence the decisions about processes and innovation.

But, of course, if we stop here, the impact will be limited. The key to success lies in more training "on the other side". In other words, the departments that seek support from the systems departments should also be investing in training to gain a better idea of what they need and what they can achieve, as well as to understand the implications of their requests. To continue with the SOA (service-oriented architecture) example, these same departments should see that a foray into the world of services entails a change in project management and decision making. We all know what ends up happening: someone from another department goes to the sessions or is informed of their existence. That is, of course, if we´re lucky.

Another of the points I would include in my wish list is to turn the focus of training on creativity and innovation. These are big words. But I am convinced that if we do not use these concepts as the guiding tenets of all our training sessions we will embark on a journey with, at best, an unknown destination. A few weeks ago, I was in Mumbai (the former Bombay) for a seminar in which we tried to grasp the realities of a country that has become a global competitor in technology.

The country’s success at providing value-added services has highlighted the importance of focusing on offering something more than just standard fare. Not only has this move been good for India; it has been vital for its survival. Being efficient at programming software or providing excellent service is no longer enough. The war is now fought on other battlefields, where the main issue isn’t just to gain efficiency but to win a competitive edge. Suppliers and clients need to focus on winning these advantages for the organisations for which they work. Achieving this requires teaching more than just procedures and languages and focusing on ways of thinking and collaborating.

I don´t know if my letter is getting too complicated, but the next wish has to do with taking decision and measuring results. Another of my New Year wishes is to learn to install--or at least become more familiar with--better systems for measuring the results of systems departments. Just as vague? No mention of specific languages or specific standards? Let´s see if I can explain my reasoning.

Imagine that your company has just hired a new managing director. Shortly after assuming his post, he will probably want to gain an idea of how the different departments operate. In his meeting with the marketing manager, the new boss will probably find it reasonably easy to ask pertinent questions about how things are going. The key indicators of the marketing department will not be completely unfamiliar to him.

Now let´s imagine a similar encounter with the systems manager. What questions would the boss ask? How easy would it be for him to ask them? A big effort at reporting is required if the key indicators of our business are to reach and be understood by the management committee. Indeed, experts in this department must understand how the system for gauging results works and how these results can be turned into comprehensible information that allows for decisions to be taken in accordance with certain criteria.

One last wish, if I may, focuses on work methods. Talking about assessment and standardisation systems relates directly to how we structure our jobs. And yet, companies need to do things in a more efficient and flexible way possible. I am sure that this is nothing new. What is new is the array of simple tools available for sharing and generating information throughout the entire company and for combining the training and online collaboration both within and between departments and between clients and suppliers. This enables the cycle of training-reflection-application of what has been learnt to revolve faster and more effectively.

Indeed, several of the above wishes can come true at the same time if we know (and this is my wish) how to broaden the definition of training to include all kinds of online collaboration methods, from blogs, and forums to wikis or whatever else you can think of. Changing the concept of training to something more persistent and more focused on the interests of both the individual and the company will make it easier to uncover the points of connection among people and projects. With even minimal success, this new level of communication will generate fresh ideas and ways to tackle problems that traditionally had no forum in which they could be addressed. In the end, we will change the way people work and collaborate with each other—changes that will spill over to the way in which we design training plans, select topics and participants.

As you can see, my letter is ambitious. What I am still unclear about is under which of the three wish categories my list should fall. But that´s part of the game. Next year´s letter will describe our achievement over the coming months.


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